With video-on-demand services and general video consumption online continuing at a rapid clip, many network specialists have warned of a time when telecom networks will no longer be able to take the strain. In the Middle East the situation is particularly important with Saudi Arabia a prime example: Indeed, it’s a commonly heard statistic that the country has the highest rates of YouTube consumption, per capita, globally. At the same time many countries in the Middle East and North Africa also lack strong data networks across all regions.
Enter Voddler, a company that specialises in peer-assisted delivery of video content on the internet via a patented and secure technology. The company, which is based in Sweden, originally started as a video on demand player in Scandinavia about seven or eight years ago but switched to a business-to-business model when it saw the potential of its peering technology to service other providers.
In January 2017, Voddler hired Marwan Shehab as its regional head for the MENA region. Shehab, who is based in Dubai, is optimistic about Voddler’s potential in the region, both because of the company’s technology and the requirement for additional bandwidth or better delivery in across many parts of the region. Shehab adds that the business case for video-on- demand services has also traditionally been sensitive. “The smaller players will incur massive amounts of cost for the CDN, and the ARPU for OTT was generally viewed as one-tenth of traditional pay TV ARPU. The business case [for VoD] is very sensitive,” he said. “There are a lot of dynamics at play in the region with the existing OTT providers and this is where we see the potential of the technology to be very disruptive.”
Voddler’s technology, which runs off Amazon cloud, works by allowing VoD service’s subscribers who are at the edge of a network to help deliver slices of VoD content to fellow subscribers. The service, as a concept, may have similarities with bit torrents but the similarities end there. “Our tech is proprietary and patented, but it’s also proven and it’s much more compatible with security and rights management than the standards required by Hollywood studios for respecting the integrity of the content,” Shehab says. “We never store a full copy of the asset anywhere. All the chunks of video that are peered are just fragments of the asset.”
Furthermore, he adds that many of the big studios have faith in the technology and have previously endorsed from the time when Voddler operated as a VoD provider. “The technology itself is proven; it’s served 18 million videos and one million subscribers back when Voddler was a consumer-facing OTT video provider in Scandinavia.”
With the trust in the technology already starting from a strong base and growing, Shehab is keen to convince VoD platforms of its benefits. “The solution is able to improve the performance, the quality of service, the quality of experience and also reduce the OPEX for the OTT providers. That’s what Voddler’s proposition is; it’s going to massively improve the experience at the edges of the network. We can achieve a 75% peering rate with less than 10 end-users coming on,” he says.
At present Voddler plans to target developing markets and may turn its attention to developed markets at a later stage. For Shehab, the MENA region, and especially Saudi Arabia, holds huge potential with its heavy online video viewing, young population and vast geographic area, large areas of which have limited telecoms infrastructure.
On a more general level, Shehab believes that video-on-demand players and telecom operators will, in the not too distant future, need to find smarter ways of using their networks. “We know 80% of traffic is video and it’s eating the internet. Somehow in developed markets broadband has been enough but there will come a day when the telcos themselves will struggle to justify their levels of investment,” he says.